Steroids or no, Sammy Sosa doesn’t belong in Hall of Fame

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If I had a Hall of Fame ballot — and don’t worry, I do not — I’d put down nine names on it this year: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.

Yes, there are some cheaters on that list: three definites and at least a couple of maybes. I am willing to penalize for steroids. But I can’t see leaving Bonds, Clemens and McGwire out of the Hall. For better and for worse, they’re part of the history of the game.

Rafael Palmeiro, on the other hand, is close enough to the borderline that I don’t mind leaving him off the list. His career numbers are deserving, but he was never a dominant force. His highest MVP finish was fifth place. Baseball-reference WAR puts him among his league’s top 10 players once (8th place in 1993).

And then there’s Sammy Sosa. He’s not in the same boat as Palmeiro because he was a true superstar. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit .306/.397/.649 with 292 homers. That’s 292 homers in five years! He led the NL in homers in 2000 and ’02 and RBI in 1998 and 2001. He had 63 homers and 141 RBI in 1999 and didn’t lead the league in either category.

But that five-year run supplies the vast majority of Sosa’s case. The problem with Sosa is that he just wasn’t that valuable over the course of the rest of his six 30-homer seasons. He started out as a fine defensive outfielder, but he lost most of his value there by the time he became a great hitter. His initial 30-homer campaigns came with lousy OBPs and few doubles. His later ones came with average OBPs and poor defense.

Look at where Sosa ranks on the career lists:

K’s: 3rd
HR: 8th
RBI: 27th
SLG: 44th
Outs: 62nd
Runs: 75th
OPS: 100th
Hits: 116th
BB: 155th
OPS+: 190th
2B: 217th
OBP: 699th

Compare that with McGwire. He’s two spots below Sosa on the home run list and just 68th in RBI, but he’s eighth in slugging, 10th in OPS and 13th in OPS+. McGwire was one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Sosa certainly had a great run, but he was also a product of his time. If he came up in 1979 or 1999, rather than 1989, his numbers wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.

Like most everyone else, I do believe Sosa was a cheater, even though there isn’t much besides one anonymous New York Times report to back that up. But the reason I don’t include him on my imaginary ballot is that I don’t believe he was good enough for long enough.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 4: Carlos Gómez hit the big blast here, socking an eighth inning, go-ahead three-run homer. This after the Nats themselves had come behind following Dave Martinez getting ejected. Maybe there’s something to the whole idea of the Nats playing better without Martinez, but it’s trumped by the unreliability of the Washington bullpen, who would probably even make Casey Stengel look bad. So it would seem, at the moment anyway, the conditions for testing that idea are scientifically are not optimal. Washington should probably fix both of those things, though. Maybe they’ll have something if the season is not already lost by now.

Now let’s watch Carlos Gomez (a) lose his shoe running first to third; and (b) be all Carlos Gomez-y on that home run trot:

Pirates 14, Rockies 6: Pittsburgh was leading 8-0 when the Rockies put up a six-run sixth to make things interesting, but a big seventh featuring homers from Josh BellBryan Reynolds and Starling Marte put things back out of reach. Josh Bell on the season: .339/.408/.718 and he’s on pace for 55 homers and 162 RBI. Holy Moly.

Yankees 6, Orioles 5: New York took a 5-1 lead into the eighth and it looked like another cakewalk, but the O’s at least made it interesting with a four-run eighth to tie things up. Brandon Hyde sent reliever Mychal Givens out for the top of the ninth and . . . it didn’t go well. Well, it went well at first, as Givens struck out the first two batters he faced. Then:

If I’m an Orioles fan I suppose I’m happy that game-losing rally didn’t come via even more dinger — at least in the ninth; Clint Frazier and Luke Voit homered earlier — but I suppose that’s cold comfort. Hell, at this point of the season if I’m an Orioles fan I probably want dingers because the infamy of shattering the all-time single season home runs allowed record is gonna be a season highlight. Of sorts.

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 2: Close for the first two thirds of the game but, unfortunately for the Jays, we usually play three-thirds in this game. Boston scored two in the sixth, one each in the seventh and eighth and then opened up with a three-run ninth to make this one not-so-close. Sox starter Ryan Weber allowed one run over six to give a breather to a bullpen which pitched in a thirteen inning game the night before and Steve Pearce homered and had three RBI. The highlight of the game, though, came from a Jays player. Watch Vlad Jr. through out Rafael Devers from his butt:

Marlins 5, Tigers 2: Make it six straight wins for the Marlins. This one was particularly fun for the Fish and particularly gutting for the Tigers, as Detroit took a 2-0 lead into the ninth only to see reliever Shane Greene cough up all five of the runs Miami would score on the day. First an RBI single to Neil Walker to made it 2-1. A few batters later Ron Gardenhire intentionally walked Curtis Granderson to load the bases, setting up Garrett Cooper for his two-out grand slam. Cooper hit his first big league dinger on Wednesday, so I guess he’s getting the hang of this game. That’s nine straight losses for Detroit. Could’ve been ten as they were trailing in a game against Oakland last weekend that got suspended. Of course it probably feels like 25.

Phillies 9, Cubs 7: Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto homered and Andrew McCutchen had two hits and two RBI as a fairly wild series ends up in a split. Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber homered for Chicago but Jon Lester was kinda shaky. Philly has won five of seven.

Braves 5, Giants 4: Austin Riley hit a game-tying home run in the eighth and then drove in the go-ahead run in the 13th with an RBI single. The kid just got called up nine days ago but he’s already got five homers in those nine games while hitting .389/.421/.833. Someone tell him this game at that easy. Riley and Ozzie Albies each had three hits and Tyler Flowers homered too. The Braves have won 10 of 13 and have pulled to within a game and a half of Philly.

Twins 16, Angels 7: The Angels probably would’ve preferred another rainout. No dice, though, and as it was they gave up eight — 8! VIII! — homers to the Twins. Four of those were surrendered by Matt Harvey, who couldn’t get out of the third inning and whose ERA ballooned to 7.50 on the season. So, um, yeah, that whole experiment has not worked out too well. As for the dingers: Miguel Sanó and Jonathan Schoop went deep twice while C.J. Cron, Max KeplerJorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario had a homer a piece. It was the second time this year Minnesota hit eight homers in a game. The Twins are on pace for 324 homers. The all-time record was set by the Yankees last year with 267. Minnesota is likewise only the second team to hit eight homers in a game twice in a season. The last was the 2005 Rangers. Which, yeah, every game these days sort of feels like old Rangers games. Not that that’s really a compliment, aesthetically speaking. Indeed, longtime readers will know that I tend to default to “1990s-2000s Rangers” as a shorthand for rather boring, offense-heavy baseball. Not that Twins fans should mind, of course.

Rays 7, Indians 2: The “highlight” of this one was a Kevin Kiermaeir inside-the-park homer which was, in reality, a real drag of a play given that it only happened because Tribe outfielders Oscar Mercado and Leonys Martín slammed into each other and got hurt:

Each of the outfielders would stay in the game, thankfully. Both for their own sake and because the Indians are probably one injury or cold streak away from activating Cory Snyder or Albert Belle or someone to play outfield. The Rays got more conventional homers from Tommy Pham, Avisail García and Willy Adames.

White Sox 4, Astros 0: Lucas Giolio went the distance, spinning a four-hit shutout while striking out nine to help the Chisox earn a series split. That’s two straight complete games for Giolito. The last one was a rain-shortened four and a half inning number, but CGs are rare these days. He should own it.